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Grandparents and Child Safety in the Car

by Joanne Brickman

More than one of every five grandparents admit they don't use child safety seats for kids aged eight and under traveling in their cars, says an independent survey commissioned by Nissan North America, Inc. This finding is particularly alarming as studies show some five million grandparents in the United States serve as primary child care providers for working parents. 

     Child safety seats, properly installed, can reduce the risk of fatalities in motor vehicle collisions by 69 percent for infants, and 47 percent for toddlers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

     Many advances have been made in the car seat safety arena since grandparent's children were small. The Nissan - commissioned study confirmed grandparents are aware that there are changes. In fact, more than half the grandparents surveyed said they are worried about the proper usage of child safety seats. 

     For more than two years, Nissan has sponsored a major child seat safety public service campaign in partnership with the authors of the What to Expect parenting books. The campaign, called "Quest for Safety," (Nissan's minivan is called the Quest) includes "The What to Expect Guide to Car Seat Safety," a free booklet which answers many questions caregivers commonly ask, from when to switch to a front-facing seat, to what to do if a child resists buckling up, to how long a child should stay in a booster seat.

    Based on the findings of the child seat safety study, Nissan decided to extend their child seat safety campaign to include grandparents and urges them to request a free copy of the "What To Expect Guide To Car Seat Safety" by calling the Quest For Safety Helpline at 1-800-955-4500.  The booklet can also be read online at

    Recognizing the difficulty of properly using about 70 models of child car seats in hundreds of types of cars with different back seats (the only place children under 12 should be allowed to ride), last year, Jim Hall, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, suggested a nationwide network of fitting stations for child seats to help parents and child caretakers, including grandparents, properly restrain children.

     DaimlerChrysler was the first automaker to accept the federal agency's challenge by creating a permanent free service -- eventually to be in 1,000 dealerships -- using trained personnel to help customers fit child seats.

     General Motors has been working with Safe Kids, a nonprofit group that promotes child safety, for several years, acting as host for weekend or daylong child safety seat checks at GM dealerships. Now they're taking their crusade on the road.  National Safe Kids Campaign mobile car-seat checkup clinics soon will be traveling to dealerships, day-care centers, shopping malls and other locations in each state to make sure parents have installed child seats correctly in cars.  General Motors is supplying the minivans for these checkups -- one for each of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia.  GM said the mobile clinics will start up the week of February 13, coinciding with National Child Passenger Safety Week, February 13-19, 2000. Parents (and/or grandparents) should contact their local Safe Kids coalition for details about when the minivan will be in their area or check the Safe Kids Web site at

Meanwhile, take this quick safety seat quiz:

  • Does your grandchild ride in the back seat of your vehicle?  The back seat is generally the safest place in a crash. If your vehicle has a passenger air bag, it is essential for children 12 and under to ride in back. 
  • Does your infant grandchild ride facing the right way? Infants should ride in rear facing restraints, preferably in the back seat, until about age one and at least 20-22 lbs. Children over age one and at least 20 pounds may ride facing forward. 
  • Does your grandchild weighing 20-40 pounds have the best protection possible? Keep your grandchild in a safety seat with a full harness as long as possible, at least until 40 pounds. Then use a belt-positioning booster seat which helps the adult lap and shoulder belt fit better. 
  • How should a safety belt fit an older child? The child must be tall enough to sit without slouching, with knees bent at the edge of the seat, with feet on the floor. The lap belt must fit low and tight across the upper thighs. The shoulder belt should rest over the shoulder and across the chest.  Never put the shoulder belt under the arm or behind the child's back. The adult lap and shoulder belt system alone will not fit most children until they are at least 4'9" tall and weigh about 80 pounds. 

For more information, surf over to the NHTSA web site at or call the Department Of Transportation Auto Safety Hotline: 1-888-DASH-2-DOT (1-888-327-4236). 

     Remember, even the "safest" seat may not protect your grandchild if it isn't used correctly.



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